Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Review: The Subject Was Roses. UCLA 40th Fête All It Was. Guest poet Angel Guerrero.

Michael Sedano

Frances Conroy conducts an acting lesson on upstaging your fellow actors in the Mark Taper Forum’s production, through March 21, of Frank D. Gilroy’s “The Subject Was Roses.”

Conroy’s imposing presence over this cast including Martin Sheen and Brian Geraghty is reason enough to make the trek to the top of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill and foot the $9 parking tab. That such superb drama comes with it makes a lucky bonus.

Costume Designer Laura Bauer dresses Conroy’s Nettie Cleary in faded floral prints, their lost vibrancy a poignant mirror for Nettie’s defeated ethos. Conroy conducts her character with affectless facial expression and gesture. Despite the joyousness of the setting—an “Eisenhower” soldier’s jacket on a hanger, a “Welcome home Timmy” banner hanging above the living room—without saying a word, it’s obvious Nettie is a lifelong casualty of her own life. Tellingly, only in the final speech of the first scene does Nettie’s son, Geraghty, call Nettie “Mom.” As a whole, the family is walking wounded tiptoeing around their tired rituals of abuse and emotional extortion fueled by bitter regret.

Michael Ritchie’s tenure as the Taper’s Artistic Director has been marked with more misses than hits, particularly his failure to sponsor new work. It’s refreshing to note he’s done something right in bringing back this 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Drama gem as a last-minute replacement for the planned revival of David Mamet's 1988 "Speed-the-Plow."

Gilroy’s play exists in movie form, featuring Jack Albertson and Patricia Neal. Neal was nominated for an Oscar, Albertson won an Oscar in the role Sheen fills at the Taper. Interestingly, Sheen played the Timmy role on Broadway, and the film.

I suppose Martin Sheen is well-known to anyone who follows popular media. For sure, he is the “name” in this play, and is the only actor of the three to get warm applause when he walks on stage. He does a grand Irish accent and pulls off sly humor as the tightwad who doesn’t want his wife to know how much money the family owns (fourteen thousand three hundred fiftyseven dollars).

I did not recognize the name Brian Geraghty, only today learning he’s in a hit movie, “The Hurt Locker,” where he plays a U.S. soldier in Iraq. The actor has the thin frame that fits the role of an Infantry soldier, the character earning the Combat Infantry Man badge designating extended time on the battlefield engaging the enemy. With the Hell this kid's been through, it's a wonder he puts up with the crap his father dishes out. With one neighbor’s son killed, another crippled, the Cleary family feels itself lucky to have Timmy home unscathed. But the play’s not about returning combat veterans nor the toll of war on civilians. Conroy’s focus is the dysfunctional family that threatens, gangs up on one another, leverages emotion as a substitute for affection.

I had not shared Frances Conroy’s work heretofore, but hers is a name I’ll remember now. A Juilliard alumna, her stage career includes Obie and Tony awards, and her television work includes four Emmy nominations for “Six Feet Under,” garnering a Golden Globe for that role. With such credentials, Conroy’s dominance on the Taper stage is no star-is-born surprise. But none of that matters, this play’s the thing. Her awesome performance will have me scanning the reviews this year as her 2010 films, “Stone” with Robert DeNiro and “Provinces of Night” with Kris Kristofferson, hit the big screen.

UCLA Celebration 40 Years of Ethnic Studies: All That It Was. If Only It Had Been More.

This is what comes of reading with heart not head. When I scanned the P.R. piece announcing the Fowler Museum’s exhibition of historical materials collected in the forty year growth of ethnic studies programs at UCLA, including the Chicano Studies Research Center, the American Indian Studies Center, the Asian American Studies Center, and the Bunche Center for African American Studies, the Chicano Studies Research Center’s announcement and Flash images caught my eye. The Mural would be on exhibit.

The Mural. A few years back, Sergio Hernandez described a mural he’d worked on with Eduardo Carrillo, QEPD, Saul Solache, QEPD, and Ramses Noriega. It sounded impressive, and not because Serge is a good talker. He’s a great artist so his description bore firm credibility. Serge believes this the first Chicano mural in history, and it probably is. Hernandez' burning fear was the work had been destroyed or lost in bowels of the various places UCLA has consigned its trove of Chicana Chicano artifacts. I’m not sure of how, but Hernandez learned that UCLA had identified, and he hoped, preserved, the massive sheets of plywood the team had used to construct the mural’s substrate.

I thus approached the date, February 28, with fervid anticipation that The Mural would once again hang in public. To my eye, the CSRC’s print material suggested that would be the case.

When I tour the exhibit, however, the mural’s magnificence is nowhere in view. Saul Solache’s daughter Yvette attends under the same impression. But, as Carlos Haro, a CSRC fellow explains, the mural is just “too big” to take out of storage and bring back to life.

Deeply disappointed and a tad pissed off, I gather ammunition to ambush the center’s Director, Chon Noriega. But the false expectation is my own error. A closer reading of the CSRC’s publicity discloses my misapprehension as a case of reading with my heart, not my eyes:

Two large murals and a study drawing of a third, all of which graced the walls of the ethnic studies centers' home at UCLA's Campbell Hall, will be on display. The earliest, created for the Bunche Center for African American Studies in the late 1960s or early 1970s, suggests a communal protection of black youth that is both spiritual and physical. A 1970 drawing by Eduardo Carillo, Saul Solache, Ramses Noriega and Sergio Hernandez served as a study for a 12 x 30–foot mural at the Chicano Studies Research Center, which was credited with being the earliest Chicano mural painted anywhere in the United States.

“A study drawing” tellingly exposes my illiteracy. Not that the sketch itself is not a rare treasure, it is. This is akin to the cartoon side-by-side with a completed Diego Rivera fresco, or the Rembrandt sketches displayed at the Norton Simon Museum alongside the finished paintings.

“Too big.” Too bad. Still when Haro points to the ceiling of the gallery, explaining to Yvette Solache how much space the mural would occupy, “it would reach all the way up there,” that tells me the piece isn’t “too big” because it would fit. I think I hear Haro add something about the cost of uncrating and moving the piece, but hopefully I don’t hear right, maybe my dismayed heart is in my ear.

Much more fulfilling to my ears are the afternoon’s poetry readings.

The frenetic schedule has guests hopping from place to place, now to attend a poet’s reading, then elevate upstairs to the terrace for jumping musica, then back downstairs to the poetry room. I couldn’t attend them all, but the two I sit in for-- American Indian Studies Center contribution and the Chicano Studies Research Center poet--make the day fulfilling.

Thanks to the occupation of native California by Mexico- and Iberia-origin Spanish priests, few indigenous California people can claim direct descent from a single tribal family. Representing Chumash and other Indian people, poet Deborah Sanchez reads a series of poems. In one she acknowledges her linkages to Chicanidad, illustrating for listeners whom I speak with, the pan-indigenous connections linking Amerindia whatever borderlines or academic disciplines stand in the way.

Following Deborah Sanchez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba reads from a pair of her poetry collections. Gaspar de Alba’s presentation is especially noteworthy, given her pre-eminence as an historical novelist whose work includes Sor Juana’s Second Dream and Calligraphy of the Witch, along with the Juarez femicide detective novel, Desert Blood.

In one of those delightful spontaneities that make “live” readings so worthwhile, a youngster’s remark enriches the mirth of Gaspar de Alba’s funny prose poem that closes her reading. My paraphrase horribly mangles the artful dialog and narration; my apologies to Alicia. A dejected woman stood up on a date is attracted to a solitary figure at the end of the bar. “What’s your name?” the spurned asks, learning Vanessa. They pair up and soon the narrator is kissing and pawing her suddenly reluctant pick-up. Abandoned, the narrator goes to bed alone that evening. The next day she returns to the bar and asks after Vanessa. “That’s what we were trying to tell you,” the friendly barkeep says, "Vanessa’s real name is José." Alicia smiles at the joke, the audience explodes in laughter, and the little girl protests in outrage, “That’s not funny!”

A Heartfelt Poem from Angel Guerrero

As serendipity would have it, this weekend I received a submission from Los Angeles area poet Angel Guerrero. She's what might be called a krypto poet; she writes poetry a lot but keeps it hidden, sharing with only a select audience. Thank you, Angel, for sharing this with La Bloga.

This piece would be ideal reading on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day, or that awful day when a family learns a son, a daughter, has died in one of Bush Obama's wars.

With the underplayed soldier home from war motif of "The Subject Was Roses," Angel's more direct view of that experience provides a good balance to wrap up today's column.



They blessed themselves,

but ignored the world.

They loved to claim they care.

“Follow me, trust in me.”

The truth is scarce,

so rare.

And all along that darkened way the women sigh and weep,

for their sad and bitter harvest , is in a fetal pose asleep.

The bodies of our very best, “A small price to pay for freedom.”

With flags and shouts they blindly follow,

wherever their Generals think to lead them.

Once again a special sacrifice, the unholy debt is owed,

and payment is due at the beginning

and at the end of this familiar road.

Blood IS the only currency allowed,

our children must pay the price.

Youth that must die.

Youth thrown away,

with each and every toss of the dice.


The world again offers up its youth.

The times have not changed much.

No eyes, no limbs,

no soul, no need,

for you to use that crutch.

We count their ribbons and we count their deeds.

We are proud to say ‘they were bold.’

As we gather them up in the pieces,

that our country bought and sold.

02- 10-2010 Angel Guerrero

And there's the first Tuesday in March. A Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. See you next week.


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Unknown said...

BRAVO! Angel Guerrero

Chris said...

very nice poem <3

Anonymous said...

Edna said...Beautiful poem. You have so much talent and have so much creativity to offer.